Feeling crabby

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Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 295 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 6688

As a recent dinner with friends wrapped up at our fave Somalian eatery in Ascot Vale, it was suggested we reconvene for a soiree for the Chinese mid-autumn festival with the express purpose of getting gleefully sticky and messy with as much mud crab as we can handle.

The festival Sunday proves too tricky so instead five of us gather mid-week at Pacific Seafood BBQ House in Kensington and have a ball.

I confess this is unfamiliar territory for me.

Do we order one mud crab – they’re priced at $65 – each?

How does it work?

It’s easy – the rest of us reject any ordering duties and leave it all up to She Who Oraganised The Gathering.

Our trust is well rewarded!




As with my previous visit to this newish arrival on Racecourse Road, with another member of our happy group, we are served complementary soup.

We love this tradition, which we also run across in various Asian and African places.

This is plainer than most and reminds me very much of my mum’s vegetable soup, even if it is beef based.

Then it’s crab time!

After consultation with the staff, it’s agreed that two crabs with accompanying noodles and a few other dishes will do us right.

Our crabs are brought, pre-cooking, to our table for our approval – just like a bottle of wine.

They look bigger than in the distorted view offered by their storage tank.

Then it’s off to the kitchen with them!




They return upon a mound of egg noodles ($12 on top of the crab fee) and drenched in a sticky chilli sauce.

It’s all very good.

There is much cracking, sucking, ooo-ing and aaah-ing as the delicious, sweet crab meat is extracted.

It’s a profound pleasure to have one’s fill of fresh crab and bugger the cost.

The two crabs prove plenty – in fact, the final two claws linger on the plate for several minutes before being claimed.

But here’s an interesting thing – the sauce-imbued noodles are every bit as tasty and enjoyable as the actual crabs.

Such good seafood in the company of good pals – absolute heaven!

Happily, the rest of our meal is also very good.




The fried rice ($10.80) is excellent and quite a cut above the regular fried rice we all know so well.

This is studded with good-sized chunks of roast pork and quite a few biggish, plump and wonderful prawns.




Vegetables with bean curd ($19.50) makes sure we get some greenery and fungus as part of our meal.




Our final dish – deep-fried chicken ribs with egg yolk ($22) – comes from the specials colourfully arrayed on the walls.

It’s a relative of the familiar salt and pepper chicken ribs.

But these chook bits are richer – perhaps a little bit too rich but perfectly fitting and yummy for a special occasion feast such as this.




We’ve eaten grandly – for which pleasure the five us pay a few collective few bucks under $200.

So … $40 each for such fine food?





We finish with moon cake pieces – just a nibble for me because, as with another member of our group, I’m not a fan!









Full-on Chinese at Highpoint




Tina’s Noodle Kitchen, Highpoint.

Having checked out the swish new food area at Highpoint by myself, it’s a real pleasure to return with Bennie for another look and taste.

He, too, is impressed by it all.

We immediately note that the Vietnamese operation, Saigon Square, appears to be ready for business.

Sadly, we discover that it’s only open this day for friends and family, while the public opening will be the following day.

So we move on over to Tina’s Noodle Kitchen.

Like me, again, Bennie is knocked out that such adventurous and unadulterated food is being served at a shopping centre, at Highpoint.

It’s a nice place, with lots of tables and an air of spaciousness about it.

There’s a stack of staff members taking care of business and the open kitchen adds to the ambiance.

We take our time to peruse the long and lavishly illustrated menu (see below).

Apart from snacky items at the front and a list of “extras” both vegetable and meat at the rear, the menu appears to be devoted entirely to ingredient-packed soup-noodle combos in a dizzying range of variations, with prices mostly in the $13 to $14 range.




We love our sole dabble from the snack/smaller list – pickled vegetable threads ($3).

But these turn out to be largely unnecessary due to the sizes of our soup-noodle meals.

Beware – these are so big that at a pinch one could serve as a meal for two moderately hungry people.




Bennie chooses the deep-fried pork with pickles ($13.80).

He likes it – with some reservations.

The broth is salty and yummy, while the battered pork goes good though, unsurprisingly, becomes soggy – not necessarily a bad thing – as he progresses.

He slurps the slithery noodles and enjoys the pickles.

He has no time for the handful of quail eggs – he’s never dug them – or the “Canned Luncheon Ham” hidden within.

He may get the terminology wrong, but he sums up his feelings thusly: “Spam doesn’t taste good no matter what it’s in!”




As with Bennie’s bowl, my own spicy stewed beef ($13.80) is a mixture of the familiar and the not so.

The broth is good and towards the more fiery end of the spice spectrum, while the beef is chunky and tasty though quite solid.

For just about every mouthful that is comfortingly familiar another explodes with sheer, exotic strangeness.

I do know that in the process of enjoying this dish I eat at least three varieties of mushrooms or – more accurately, I suspect – fungus for the first time.

My attempts to discover what it is I’m eating – “Is this a mushroom, is this some sort of tofu?” – fail despite a couple of staff members giving it a crack.

They seem disinclined to find someone who can do so.

We enjoy our lunches but perhaps not as much as we may have wished.

I put that down to what I suspect is a mixture of us being pushed somewhat out of our comfort zones – even though we both choose dishes that are, superficially at least, among the least challenging on the menu – and the simple truth that perhaps this food style is not for us.

Nevertheless, we depart full of admiration – and even a little awe – for the fact that such things are being served at Highpoint.






























More than dumplings in Moonee Ponds

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Dumpling House, 2 Everage Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9188

Consider The Sauce recorded the new existence of Dumpling House in a Moonee Ponds eats goss post a month back, noting along the way how much I enjoyed the chicken and mushroom wontons in “peanut, chilli and spice sauce”.

Today I’m back for lunch and I have company.

Between us we try enough of the menu to ascertain that Dumpling House is about more than dumplings and is, indeed, a very handy arrival in the Puckle Street neighbourhood – basic of decor, very cheap and with surprises waiting to be unearthed.

And word, it seems, is getting out – there’s one large lunch group, another table of four and a few takeaway orders going out the door.




Pan-fried chicken and prawn dumplings ($9.50 for 12) are a big bite size and quite chewy.

The innards (top picture) are a deft mix of chicken and prawn – very tasty!




We enjoy, too, the Shanghai fried noodles ($9.50).

There’s nothing spectacular about this dish – it’s simply a good, solid rendition of a standard noodle dish with greenery, carrot and beef.




We are so very happy we have ordered the spicy eggplant ($16.50).

Not that it’s spicy, mind you.

It’s not.

And forget the capsicum, which is little more than a garnish.

The dish is also monumentally oily – but I doubt it could be made any other way.

What it does have is gorgeously luscious eggplant pieces with flavour that has us moaning and sighing with delight.

The sort of eggplant flavour, in fact, of which I dream.

All this is set off by the wonderfully by bright green, al-dente broad beans – such a nice touch!



Hot lunch and free soup

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Pacific Seafood BBQ House, 295 Racecourse Road, Kensington. Phone: 9372 6688

Let’s hear a big cheer for places that serve soup – soup unordered, soup served simply as part of the dining experience, soup that is a tradition and not added to the bill at the end of the meal.

Safari, the brilliant Consider The Sauce Somalian fave in Ascot Vale, serves sublime bowls of broth almost as soon as you are seated.

On several visits to Kebab Surra in Footscray I have been provided a marvellous lamb-and-vege-and-barley soup – though it seems to depend on just which main is ordered.

Pacific Seafood BBQ House, the newish Chinese place on Racecourse Road that is a sibling to older establishments in the CBD, Richmond and South Yarra, follows the same tradition when a frequent CTS dining pal and I visit for lunch.

Our soup seems to have a what I regard as a rather robust corn flavour, even though there are no corn kernels in evidence, and has what I at first take to be spud chunks.

My companion reckons, no, it’s winter melon.

She’s right.

We also subsequently discover the gratis soup is indeed corn-infused and is a pork broth.

Whatever the details, we love it.

We also love the enthusiasm with which our curiosity about the soup’s contents is greeted by the bloke manning the soup ladle.




From there, ignoring the many specials detailed on wall paper that seem more suitable to night dining and larger groups, we head straight to the quickie lunch list.

We are very happy we do so.

We both order roast meat dishes that cost $11.50.

We rank them as being at the highest end of what is expected from such dishes.




My soya chicken and BBQ roast pork with rice is wonderful.

The meats are moist and, as is almost always the case, more generous of proportion than eyeball or photographic impressions may convey.

The crackling is a crunchy, sinful delight.

The rice has enough soya cooking juices to do the job and the bok choy is fine.

The oil/green onion/ginger mash is very, very welcome though I wish there was more of it.




My friend goes the roast duck with noodles.

The noodles glisten atop a bed of soya juices and bok choy – she fails in the mission of consuming them, as I do with my rice.

The roast duck is expertly done.

The meat comes from the bones more easily than is often the case and the skin is a dark brown and, yes, another sinful delight.

We love Racecourse Road – and now we love it more.



Midnight munchies



China Bar, 235 Russell Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9639 1633

After earlier in the evening attending a very interesting panel discussion on “the challenges of urban renewal” at VU, I had no desire for food whatsoever.

So I spend the rest of the night just reading and goofing off.

Then, of course, the munchies kick in pretty much right on the pumpkin hour.

Normally, I’d simply go to bed looking forward to breakfast.

But this is one of those rare occasions – no work tomorrow, no son to get awake and off to school (including making his breakfast and lunch), not even any appointments or pressing matters to attend to.

So off I go in a reminder of earlier times in my life when post-midnight escapades were common and dawn conclusions were not rare.

I’d love to head somewhere more local, but as you all know – I’m sure – there literally is nowhere to go, AFAIK, save for kebab shacks.

Besides, getting into the CBD and finding a park at this time of night is such a breeze, it seems local.

China Bar or Stalactites?

China Bar.

Last time I was in the city late at night, Bennie and I hit the newer, 24-hour China Bar in Swanston Street as the Russell Street version was closed for renovations.

Since the, we’ve also checked out in a look-not-eat fashion the China Bar Signature Asian Buffet, a branch of which is also on Russell Street.

The problem there for us, should we ever indulge, is not the pricing but the vast range of food.

I reckon being around it all but being able to only consume a small bit of what’s available would do my head in a little.




The regular Russell Street China Bar is an old friend from way back in the days when I lived in Flinders Lane and even before.

I know that these days, CB has many locations spread across Melbourne.

But it always seems like real-deal Chinese/Malaysian to me – with cheap, tasty food, many folks coming and going, and brusque staff.

All is as usual when I enter.

The place is packed but not unbearably so.

There’s no drunks in evidence but I always find it a really neat thing to re-discover that night owl eating is such a widespread, common and utterly normal activity, even on a week night.

There are many younger people, students and office workers both, in the house but also family groups.

My two-roast combination with rice costs $11.90 and looks both a treat and bloody enormous.

It is big but it’s made to look even bigger because of the huge amount of rice included.

The meat portions seem a little bigger than regulation serves and are good, even if some of the larger pieces of soya chicken and roast duck are a bit dry and the meat-bone relationship difficult to navigate.

Still, it’s good stuff … though if I wonder if I should have ordered the laksa.

But then, I always wonder that.

Home, bed.

Yum cha in Castlemaine



Taste of the Orient Yum Cha House, 223 Barker Street, Castlemaine. Phone: 5470 5465

Bennie and I are up Kyneton way to spend some time on Helen’s ranch – but first we’re checking out the Castlemaine market.

I’m impressed with the depth and breadth of the fresh produce and the likes of preserves on hand but it’s mostly lunch we’re after.

The best we see is an inside crew from one of the local Chinese joints doing what looks like some pretty good yum cha.

But there’s a queue and, silly me, we haven’t got enough hard cash on us to do the job.

So it’s in to Castlemaine proper we go.




We amble around the town’s CBD but find it hard to get a good reading on what’s on offer.

After years of trawling through the west, it seems we have some sort of in-built wisdom that means we can assess an eatery very quickly – good, bad, yes, no, worth a shot?

Not infallibly, mind you, but reliably so.

In Castlemaine, it feels as if every place we pass will sell us a crappy BLT and take about an hour to serve it.

Sorry, Castlemaine!

So we hit an ATM and prepare to head back to the market.




Just as we are departing I see it – the very same Chinese restaurant that is doing yum cha at the market.

It’s open and, yes please, that’ll do fine!

Vegetarian dims sims (top photo, $7.50) taste OK but seem to have the consistency of sludge and thus lack the sort of textural contrasts I am expecting.




Organic pork and carrot dim sims ($7.50) are juicy with porkiness and very good.




Deep-fried organic tofu ($6) suffers by comparison with more highly seasoned versions we get in Malaysian establishments but is still good.




Crystal vegetarian dumplings ($7.50) have all the crunch and texture I expected from our other veggie selection and are excellent.

Steamed buns are mostly Bennie’s preserve, but even I completely love the …




… free-range pork $4) and …




… free-range chicken and ginger ($4) items we have here!

The latter is juicy, meaty and fragrant with ginger.

Both buns are light and undoughy.

We’ve had what I consider to be a top-rate and very affordable yum cha feed.

Bennie is somewhat less impressed – is he becoming a cranky, hard-to-please teen?

And it’s true my judgment could be subjectively coloured by the lack of anything else in Castlemaine that called strongly to us and the sheer delight of finding a classy yum cha emporium right here.

Still, with just a few minor quibbles, I consider that what we eat is mostly as good as anything we’d get in Melbourne places – and a whole lot better than we’d get in many.

Do dogs dig dumplings?



I Love Dumplings, 311 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9372 5218

The restaurant also known as Chinese Spicy and Barbie Kitchen appears to have bowed to the obvious and inevitable by embracing I Love Dumplings as its major name.

It’s also moved a few doors up the road – into what was once a bank building.




On the outside, it’s drab, box-like appearance still reeks of financial sector.




Inside, and after a no-doubt expensive and extensive makeover, it looks like, well, a Chinese restaurant.

With a happy, big mid–week lunch crowd in attendance and a vinegary tang in the air, it sounds and smells like one, too.

Team CTS is today two robust appetites and one not so much.

We order smartly and stick solely to dumplings – or almost – in celebration of the management’s embracing of the dumpling love mantra.

The lunch menu (see below), mind you, has a lot of very well priced and interesting non-dumpling dishes about the $10 mark that will make this a lunch hot spot for sure.

We spend about $10 per head and eat like kings.




Pan-fried chicken corn dumplings ($9.80 for 15) are extreme in terms of plainness but taste beaut, the lovely chicken meat having enough corn kernels to provide flavour and texture lifts.




Steamed pork and spring onion buns ($11.80 for six) are, we are assured, quite different from the regular BBQ pork buns.

We don’t find that to be the case, but they’re a hit anyway – quite delicate, and with enough moistness in the filling to offset the doughy exteriors.




Steamed vegetarian dumplings in Sichuan chili sauce ($9.80 for 15) are our best dish.

The soy-based, thin sauce has enough of a spice kick to make the already fab dumplings really sing.

The parcels are packed with all sorts of goodies that make the absence of any sort of animal protein an irrelevance.

Do dogs dig dumplings?

The guide dog trainers of two lovely labs that have been in the house for lunch-time assure us they would if they could!